Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #117 - Hacking the Cypher System - Improv Powers


You may not notice, and if you are a player and not a GM you can even be forgiven, but the core rules for the Cypher System has a section called "Modifying Abilities On The Fly" (CSR pg 226). It's in the "Optional Rules" part of the book and I think that's a shame in a way because I don't see this being embraced much in the games I play in or run, even when I expressly allow it for my players. These rules are in Numenera (pg 114, Modifying Abilities) and The Strange (pg. 354, Modifying Abilities), but seem oft overlooked.

So what is this whole "Modifying Abilities On The Fly" thing? The idea is to give the GMs and players a little room to use the powers of their Type and Focus beyond the way they are written. It's difficult to plan for everything, and it's even more so to provide balanced options that cover all situations and uses easily. So when a character needs to weld two pieces of metal together but doesn't have a specific weld/glue/attach power they may be able to improvise something like a fire based onslaught into a welding torch for a scene.

Trying to use such an ability "out of scope" isn't going to be easy, and so there are ability check difficulty suggestions. Using a fiery onslaught as a welding torch might be difficult (level 4), while using the same to jump higher may be formidable (level 7), and using it to achieve sustained flight would be impossible (level 10). Obviously (I hope) GMs are free to say no to outlandish attempts. Using telepathy to fly probably shouldn't even be possible as a level 10 "impossible" task.
Editor's Aside: A level 10 task can be accomplished and so "impossible seems a bad adjective to use. We should probably aim for something closer to "improbable." Just sayin'...
So what good is all this? Well, anybody who's played more than a few hours of RPGs has probably run into a case of "Can I do X?" where the request seems perfectly reasonable and within scope for the character, but isn't expressly allowed and adjudicated by the rules. GMs often have to think on their feet and make snap rulings, and these rules for modifying abilities can help make that process a little easier. It's also useful for the players, as it gives them guidance for just how far they can push their abilities above and beyond what is explicitly detailed in the book.

So, next time you're at the table consider stretching beyond the book. If you are a player look for a unique way to use your normal powers. And if you are a GM consider allowing the players to use their abilities to achieve some of those wacky things they ask to do.